Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving free range turkey, with brine


I was really nervous about making any semblance of a complete Thanksgiving meal, since I've never done it before. On Thanksgiving Day, yesterday, I actually cooked nothing; Sally, Manda, Johnny, Ashley, and Mike blessed us with a wonderfully delicious meal. But the next day, today, I had been planning on having my international student friendship partner over and a fellow Denver Seminary student over for a meal. This would be the international student/friend's first traditional Thanksgiving meal and my first Thanksgiving meal preparation, so I was quite nervous.

My mother-in-law and numerous other friends had suggested the Reynolds Oven Bag as an easy and sure way to cook turkey. I had even purchased some bags early in the week. However, once I had them in hand, I chickened out on using them. I don't know whether it was the idea of throwing them in a plastic bag or the chef part of me coming out. Anyhoo, I asked around to see by what other methods people favor cooking turkeys, and one particular approach was of interest to me, albeit far from the simplest. It involved soaking the turkey in salt water for about a day, which I later learned is a process called brining.

Thankfully, my husband was of tremendous assistance, and he humored me by doing it as I suggested (even though I was flying by the seat of my pants). I had purchased a fresh, free range turkey that had been flash frozen (whatever that means). Having a turkey that was not confined to a cage was very important to me, even if it meant paying a bit extra. Our turkey was somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 lbs.

If you'd like the details of how we treated the turkey, pre-cooking, I defrosted it in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Then I brought roughly 2.5 gallons of water to a boil and dropped approximately 3 (is that right?) cups of kosher salt and waited until the salt was entirely dissolved before turning the stove off. Let the salt water cool to room temperature. We double bagged brand new trash bags, placed the entire turkey inside and submerged it in salt water. Then, I had my husband stick the bag in a huge tupperware container and he surrounded the bag with ice cubes and snow (leftover snow from about a week and a half ago). Since we're dealing with poultry, it needs to be kept cool to prevent it from spoiling. We left the turkey in salt water for roughly 24 hours. The next morning, this morning, I had my husband pull the turkey out, get rid of the internal organs, and rinse the turkey under water.

Here are the ingredients for the turkey that I used:
  • a couple of tsp of thyme.
  • a couple of tsp of sage.
  • some pinches of brown sugar.
  • diced celery - I used probably 5-6 stalks.
  • diced carrots - I used 3-4, I think.
  • 1 onion.
  • 10-12 lb turkey.
  • 1 cup of water.

I lined the bed of the roaster with the ingredients, minus the turkey, before putting the turkey on top. Cooked the turkey for about 2.75 hrs, at 325 degrees fahrenheit, with the lid on. Look so juicy.

After we enjoyed the fruit of our labor, he said, "guess we'll always be having turkey brine." The turkey was juicy and tasty, to be sure. And our guest absolutely loved it, too; had to take some home with her. My husband graciously helped by doing most of the lifting and pouring, the grunt work for the turkey preparation, while I just directed traffic and manipulated the other ingredients and spices. So good, it's worth the effort, we all said.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chicken and Shrimp Jambalaya

Chicken & Shrimp Jambalaya

A couple of notes to the wise. First, this isn't a super quick recipe. Had to put in that disclaimer, since this blog is, in part, about quick recipes. Certain vegetables: celery, tomatoes, an onion, some green onions, and green peppers need to be washed and cut. Second, the measurements I provide are a rough guess-stination of what I used. This past Sunday, November 8th, was the first time I made jambalaya, ever. Many of you who know me are also aware that I NEVER, EVER cook strictly according to recipe. Things didn't smell quite right until ALL the ingredients had been deposited together. In the end the jamalaya was a huge hit. Made approximately 8-10 servings worth, and it was gone in less than 2 days. There are only two adults (and two babies) in this house. Even my 17 month old baby seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.

  • 1/2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tbsp rubbed sage
  • 1/2 tbsp dry mustard powder
  • 1/2 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • a few pinches of red pepper flakes
  • some sea salt
  • a few cloves of garlic, diced
  • a small to medium sized onion, diced
  • 2 things of green onions
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 large green pepper, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 5 or 6 small ripe tomatoes (fresh)
  • small can of tomato sauce (14 oz., approximately)
  • 1 cup of rice (measuring the rice before it's cooked), medium grain rice
  • 1-3 cups of chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp worcestershire
  • 1/4 pack of family size chicken breast
  • 16-20 medium sized raw shrimp
  • 4 turkey hot dogs, cut into small chunks
Though this was the first time cooking jambalaya, I didn't bother paying any attention to cooking instructions. Flew by the seat of my pants, using my instincts and basic cooking experience. In case you desire to know what I did, here is the basic idea:

Instructions -

Stir fry the chicken breast separately, in a pan, after letting some garlic and the white part of the green onions simmer in olive oil for a little bit on medium heat. Once the aroma of the garlic and green onions permeate the air, add in the chicken. Cook it until it is barely well done. Set that aside.

I cooked the rice separately. But, I have a rice cooker that does a superb job of cooking rice without needing any attention. And, I have a preference for medium grain rice, over long grain rice. Jambalaya traditionally calls for long grain rice.

In a pot, add all the other ingredients, including spices, the vegetables, the other "meats" (shrimp and turkey hot dogs), tomato sauce, and broth (I also added a little bit of water). Bring the pot of goodies to a boil and then add the chicken and (cooked) rice. Once the raw shrimp is fully cooked, the jambalaya is ready to eat; however, letting it simmer will allow the flavor to soak into everything. Enjoy!


P.S. I do not recommend this recipe to people who are sensitive to spicy food. I'm still recovering from large periods of time I couldn't eat spicy food, while pregnant and nursing. So, my tolerance threshold is a bit low for spicy stuff. Loved this soup, but it opened up all the pores in my face.

P.P.S. Tonight I purchased enough ingredients to double the recipe, hoping it will last double the time? My husband loved it so much he had it every meal (including breakfast) and every snack time. I didn't get much of a chance to eat it after that first meal, because he was devouring it so quickly. We'll see what happens this time.